The dB’s Repercussion Blog
Interview with Peter Holsapple
|Would you buy two copies of the same album|
from these guys? They (and we) sure hope so.
Daniel Coston photo
No one can accuse Peter Holsapple of being a slacker — especially not after hearing about his "day in the life."
|Peter sings in Hoboken|
I'd call that a long day!
|Have your copy yet? 'Course you do...|
Although I didn’t ask him to address it, Peter’s thoughts frequently turned to the history of The dB’s. Perhaps a backward glance or two is inevitable at this point, given the band’s history. After dB’s founder Chris Stamey left the group in 1982 to pursue his own musical projects, Peter and Will Rigby (and Gene Holder, for much of the time) carried the banner admirably for The dB’s. By 1988, however, the musical life of the band appeared to be over. But in 2005, the release of the free single “World to Cry” and a handful of reunion concerts announced to the world that the group’s original lineup had once again joined forces.
Peter says that “to get back together again, we had to do some reflecting — because there was a reason why there was no dB’s.” He describes 1982 as a major turning point for the band: “When Chris left, it wasn’t for any animosity. It was more because he really wanted to experiment with something else. And we always stayed friends. Then when Gene left to go to The Wygals, it was not animosity. He felt like we had done what we were going to do, and he wanted to do something else also.”
Along with the bumps in the road, however, Peter also has been remembering the halcyon days of growing up together in the North Carolina “tobacco town” referenced in Repercussion’s “Ups and Downs.” Asked to describe what makes The dB’s distinctive, Peter talks about “that element that we have, and I don’t even know what it is. I think the element comes from the four of us — four guys who grew up together in Winston-Salem in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We listened to the same stuff; we speak the same language; we talk Winston-Salem. I can just name a landmark there, and everybody will chime in. Or we’ll talk about an old music store or something that happened in high school, and we all remember it. We all have that shared hallucinogenic background. What I mean by that is, sometimes I think we hallucinated all of that growing up, ‘cuz it was all so great.”
|Looks like fun: early performance, Little Diesel.|
“I think in our old bands, whether we were conscious of it or not, there was an element of getting our audience to keep an open mind about music and broadening their horizons. I mean, without being ‘high and mighty educators’ — we weren’t lauding it over people with our great and wonderful taste. But we did feel like, ‘OK, I’m glad you like the new James Taylor record, but you might really, really like this record by Mott the Hoople’, you know? We read all the magazines, we read all the rock books — it was great stuff. We happened upon a fortunate time. It was a great time to have a band and a great time to discover all your friends were into it, too.”
Peter and the mighty Ace Tone, c. 1980Stephanie Chernikowski photo
When I ask Peter to distinguish Falling Off the Sky from The dB’s previous albums, he emphasizes the members’ desire to represents themselves as they are today and avoid becoming a retro-nostalgia act. “Without making it sound like it’s being recorded in 1982, which it isn’t; and because there’ve been events in all four of our lives — marriages, divorces, children, other bands, moving, hurricanes — all this stuff figures in. Hopefully, the songs and the record itself do reflect some of that personal growth and change. If we made it sound like 1982, we’d be treading water. We could’ve done that in 1983, but what would be the point of doing that in 2012? So it was important to make it sound contemporary as well.”
Case in point: can 50-something musicians still sing their older songs of youthful preoccupation — and not sound lecherous or ludicrous? Peter thinks not. “When someone calls out, ‘play Bad Reputation’, I’m like, ‘Ya know, the whole “new girl in school, she looks cool” — at the age of 56, I really [would] sound like a dirty old man.’ So I’m less and less inclined to want to sing something like that. ‘Black and White’ still holds true; the whole miserable girlfriend stuff is as universal as it ever has been. It rears its head in adult ways, too.”
|DON'T compare them to them...|
|Repercussion starts with this one|
The beautiful and musically challenging Falling Off the Sky is chock full of great playing, gorgeous melodies, and thought-provoking lyrics, all of which made me want to revisit the album many times over. I tell Peter my favorite in the collection is “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore.” It’s a compelling, lump-in-the-throat song — a musical short story about a woman scarred by the trauma of surviving a hurricane. It’s one of those unforgettable pop songs that builds in musical and emotional intensity until the final crescendo. Best of all, it demonstrates a deep appreciation for the silence surrounding the rest of the music. I place it in the upper echelon of Peter’s compositions, with “Lonely Is As Lonely Does,” “Never Before and Never Again,” and “She Was the One.”
After I finish gushing, Peter explains that “She Won’t Drive” was co-written with Kristian Bush of Sugarland and formerly of Billy Pilgrim. He chuckles at the thought of people seeing “K Bush” in the album credits and jumping to the conclusion that Peter had co-written a song with a certain legendary British New Wave chanteuse! The next thing he says goes a long way to explaining the song’s impact on the listener: it’s based almost entirely on a true story.
“It’s about my wife evacuating New Orleans during Katrina. I was on the road with Hootie [and the Blowfish]; my wife had taken my daughter and my baby son and my daughter’s best friend on a train to Birmingham to buy a vehicle up there. She knew the hurricane was coming, and she did all the things you’re supposed to do. We didn’t think too much about it — we certainly didn’t realize it was going to be a 100-year storm. But when she got to Birmingham to get the car, it was very evident there was no turning back, so she drove literally across the storm path to get to her grandmother’s in Little Rock.”
|The diaspora created by Katrina|
The evidence of a successful musical collaboration appears throughout the new album. But that doesn’t mean the writing, arranging, recording, mixing and sequencing took place without any struggle. “We’ve always tried to persuade ourselves into thinking this is a democracy; everybody can have veto power. That’s a good, sensible way to do it,” says Peter, “because you don’t want to put a song on a record that everyone [else] hates. If one person really, really despises it, then it’s going to be hard to make it onto the record.” The down side of this egalitarian approach, however, is that some worthy material can get left out of the spotlight. “There’s one song on the record that probably will not get played at dB’s shows. It’s a beautiful song and it deserves to be heard. It will probably get played somewhere in somebody’s [solo] set, but probably not The dB’s.”
| Peter hard at work on FOTS in 2009. Daniel Coston photo |
See more of Daniel's awesome work HERE
Even when the band reached consensus on the 12 songs chosen for the new CD, more than a dozen others were held back. “There’s a really beautiful song — if I can say that about my own writing — called ‘So Sad About Sam’. It’s about a friend of ours that killed himself. We grew up adoring him. He was like Gene’s best friend. He was, without a doubt, my favorite guitar player in Winston-Salem. He drew so much from Mike Bloomfield, who was my favorite blues guitar player growing up. That’s a song that’s missing a lead guitar right now; we’re trying to figure out what to do with that.” Wait, there’s more: “There’s a song called ‘Lakefront’ that I wrote, that I think Will felt was too personal for a dB’s record. That’s a very New Orleans-centric song of mine; I did that song for years in solo acoustic sets. We cut it, and it’s nice; but somehow, it was too personal. ‘Orange Squeezer’, which is a great song — we’ll probably do that live at some point.”
|Will's first dB's album track|
Peter sings George Harrisonphoto by fred babyflo via Flickr
Now, with a new album about to be released, Peter sounds like a man trying to learn from past experiences: “Maybe if ‘Neverland’ had been a huge hit, things would be different. But it wasn’t, and that’s OK. Not everybody gets the brass ring that gets on the merry-go-round. You know, it’s disappointing. It’ll take you up and it’ll take you down. You can allow it to make you as miserable as you want. I’ve let it make me much more miserable than it does now. Now, I just try to be as circumspect about it as I possibly can. I don’t want it to take me out of the ballgame; I like this too much.”
This time, staying in the game will not mean a lengthy tour to promote Falling Off the Sky. No longer a book store employee, Peter’s new job is in the arts, and he sounds very content with his work environment. In fact, his boss knows about Peter’s musical endeavors and has made allowances so he can juggle both interests. The bottom line, however, is that although The dB’s are “a baby band again in many ways,” a full-scale tour is not in the offing. “That’s a big difference between The dB’s then and now: we have to really concentrate on what we have made our lives into. I’m glad we’ve made this beautiful record; I’m really proud of it and I do think it fits into the canon very nicely. The problem I have is that I can’t go out there on the road for six weeks in a van. I can’t sleep on people’s floors anymore; my back won’t tolerate it! Not to sound like a crotchety old man, but I have to try to keep myself healthy, I have to try to keep myself mentally healthy. We all do. And we have to do what’s right for our families.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can within reason to make this record happen. At this point, records don’t necessarily happen because you just tour yourself to death, either. I think there are some bands that do that. I’m glad for them. But they are considerably younger than we are. We’re not the freakin’ Lawrence Welk Orchestra, by any stretch of the imagination! But we’re all in our mid- to late-50s, and it changes the cosmetic of what you do at that age.”
So what’s a self-respecting dB’s fan to do? I humbly suggest (along with Mr. Holsapple himself) that you buy at least two copies of Falling Off the Sky. You can think of it as generosity toward the band, and perhaps also the friend to whom you give your extra copy. Or, more selfishly, you can think of it as insurance that we get to hear some more dB’s music in the not-too-awfully-distant future.
Please guys, don’t wait another 30 years — some of us won’t be around that long!!
Please guys, don’t wait another 30 years — some of us won’t be around that long!!
|Peter H drawing by|
Peter Blegvad for Radio Free Song Club
For all of us who have stuck it out, the rewards just now are sweet indeed.
THANK YOU, Chris, Will, Gene — and the decidedly non-slackerish —